|Rev. Mable Humphrey warned against a house divided|
Rod Holt, Apollo Grill co-owner, reminded both City Council and Mayor Donchez of what Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto supposedly said after the Pearl Harbor attack. "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
"You all know how that ended," Holt concluded.
He was hinting that the Administration and Council will pay a heavy price at the polls for their actions last night in adopting an ordinance almost universally opposed by Downtown Bethlehem and South Side merchants. Some say this anti-incumbent sentiment is what has already swept Olga Negron and Michael Colon into office.
Although Mayor Donchez insisted at the start of the meeting that the process was fair to all involved, Holt countered he was at a meeting with Planning Director Darlene Heller denied that the Administration was talking to the developer in and that Community and Economic Development Director Alicia Karner twice refused to let merchants meet with the Mayor. Diane Holt, Rod's wife, added that Karner came into a meeting with "guns blazin'" and yelled at merchants who wanted to meet with the Mayor.
Throughout the evening, Holt's allegations were confirmed by Brew Works owner Jeff Fegley, Donegal Square owner Neville Gardner and Hotel Bethlehem Managing partner Bruce Haines.
"We were shut down," complained Fegley.
Neither Karner nor Heller responded to these allegations, but they were praised earlier by the Mayor and later by City Council. They have previously denied that they prevented merchants from seeking out the Mayor.
Jim Fiorentino, Chair of the Planning Commission, also addressed Council. He told them he first became aware of the new ordinance at Martin Tower in June, and was immediately struck by the detail. He believes he and other planners were misled about the involvement of developer Lew Ronca.
He likened planning to building a snowball, which he said should be built at the top of a hill, with many people helping. Once that snowball starts rolling down a hill, it's hard to change it.
Fiorentino concluded that adoption of this ordinance would send the message that the City can be underhanded in everything we do."
Hotel Bethlehem Managing Partner Bruce Haines had three points. First, even with Eric Evans' amendments, the amount of destination retail permitted at the Martin Tower site will still be 2 1/2 times the size of Historic Downtown Bethlehem shopping district. Second, the developer is being rewarded with a windfall after he blighted the tower himself. Finally, he called the City Revitalization and improvement Zone (CRIZ), a special incentive under which Ronca can use state and local taxes to finance development, the "root cause" of the problem. He warned that Ronca can use the CRIZ to drive every downtown merchant out of business, and then move the CRIZ downtown after buying all their buildings at reduced prices.
Irishman Neville Gardner told the story of being forced to call Ronca from Scotland because the developer was going to refuse to permit parking at the Martin Tower lot during Celtic Classic."You're dancin' with the Devil," he warned.
Dana Grubb suggested that the City should conduct a number of neighborhood meetings, as it did when it considered a new zoning ordinance.
Kisann Albanese, a massage therapist downtown, noted the absence of both a plan and the developer.
The sole supporter of Martin Tower rezoning was David "Lump" Sanders, owner of the popular Center Street deli where the famous Table of Knowledge is located.
"Some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield," he started.He noted plans like these always have opposition, including the Sands and Lowe's. He said that Martin Tower doesn';t generate enough taxes to even pay for a police motorcycle.
When all were said and done, all Council members save Cathy Reuscher voted for the mixed use ordinance. Eric Evans stated that the people in the room do not speak for all 77,000 Bethlehem residents. Recchiuti, who plans on moving to Hanover Township, voted for big boxes and suburban sprawl. Bryan Callahan amazingly avoided insulting the audience for the first time in several meetings. Lou Stellato said, "We gottta' do something!" for the third time. Adam Waldron wants to "scale it down," a little bit, but not enough to vote No.Reynolds tried to be conciliatory, but
It's too soon to say whether merchants will challenge this ordinance in court. But it's very likely that supporters of this ordinance will be challenged in upcoming elections. Historically, mercahnts have stayed out of electoral politics, but that appears to be changing.
The City is divided against itself.
Updated 11:45 am. There are stories at WFMZ-TV69, Morning Call and Express Times.